Loyal and Insecure

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi
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What purpose do loyalty pledges serve in a democracy?

LOYALTY PLEDGES often evoke sniggers and mirth in a democracy. All they do is diminish the stature of the person to whom the pledge is made. This is the situation which the Congress party finds itself in after the newly-elected legislators to the West Bengal Assembly were made to sign an undertaking promising ‘unqualified’ allegiance to the party led by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

The initial reaction to news of the happenings in the West Bengal unit was along predictable lines: after all, the Congress has a history of sycophancy towards its ‘supreme leader’. One only has to remember DK Barooah’s ‘Indira is India’ line. But that will be a category mistake.

What is being displayed is not sycophancy of some party leader in a far-off province. A reading of the ‘undertaking’ shows that legislators have been made to promise that they won’t criticise the party or its actions. This is not sycophancy; this is a mark of insecurity.

One could be sympathetic and say that this is the natural instinct of a party that received its worst drubbing in three decades in the General Election of 2014. But that would be inaccurate, for in 1985—just a year after the party won 426 seats in the Lok Sabha—the Government led by its leader Rajiv Gandhi crafted the Anti-Defection law.

While the ostensible purpose of the law (enshrined as the 10th Schedule of the Constitution) was to curb the ‘evil of political defections’ and fulfil an ‘assurance’ given to the House, it had more to do with assuring an unsure and (until then) apolitical leader. It is that trait, insecurity, be it at the command of a parliamentary majority or a 44-seat political low that has been inscribed on Rs 100 stamp papers in West Bengal.

This is not a place to address the causes of the insecurity displayed by the Congress leadership; that is a task best left to historians, preferably of the non-eminent variety. What the Congress’ leadership needs to understand is much simpler. Political victory and defeat are part of the democratic game and should not be the cause for panic among a mature set of leaders. They need to take all manner of electoral outcomes in their stride. That, and not stamp papers with ink spilt on them, will lead them to better days.